Chris Colfer, Lea Michele

Yes, graduation is approaching at McKinley High, and yes, Glee fans are freaking out. Can the show survive without stars like Lea Michele and Chris Colfer? Do the actors already know which of their characters are seniors? (They're about to!) Executive producer Ryan Murphy says he has, in fact, talked to most of the cast about life after Glee. Eeeek!

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But it's just one of several things on Murphy's mind. The Glee boss also spoke to TVGuide.com about the mixed reaction to Season 2 -- and the show's new mantra -- why he's cutting guest stars, how Santana's story will differ from Kurt's, and juggling two shows next season.

Everyone wants to know who is graduating. In your mind, who are the seniors at McKinley?
Ryan Murphy:
I think they're all seniors, except I don't think Chord Overstreet is a senior, and I think the Darren Criss of it all is very ambiguous. But we're not really thinking about that right now. The other thing I'll say is that there are a lot of kids in that glee club who are intellectually challenged, who I'm sure are pulling straight Fs.

Yeah, I think it's going to be sad when it's over, but it's the responsible thing to do. I think it's the right thing to do for the fans. I don't think fans want a fake, six-year high school. I don't think they'd go for it. And as we proved this year with Darren and Chord, you bring new people in and people love them. People care about them. I was worried about that, but I think that show is as strong as the people we add. I also think we have an amazing group of people in there who I haven't written towards, who I am going to write for, so I am excited about that.

I'm glad you're not worried, but can you really do a show without Lea Michele or Chris Colfer? Are you confident it will work without them?
Murphy:
I don't know. I haven't figured out about Lea or Chris. I can only tell you they're two of my favorite characters to write, and I love them both as people, and I will do whatever I can to help their careers. So, I don't know what we're going to do with them. I'm sort of shocked at this outpouring...

How can you be shocked?
Murphy:
Well, I said this a year ago.

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And now we're nearing the deadline, which you alerted viewers to in the second-season finale, when Finn (Cory Monteith) points out that he and Rachel are graduating next year...
Murphy:
I think that's what it is. I think people might be like, "Oh, sh--! The time is nigh!"

Have you talked to the cast about graduation yet? Or have any of the actors come to you, scared?
Murphy: We just shot the Glee 3D movie and I made a point of going around to many of them and talking to them about what else they want to do in their lives. Can we help you? What are your goals? What are your dreams? It wasn't about the show. But you know the show this year will be different than it's been.

Different how?
Murphy:
Last year, I looked at it as one season. This year, I look at it as a fall and a spring semester, similar to what we did in Season 1, where we're going to go off the air for an extended period of time and come back with a lot of episodes all in a row. Because this year, I was like, OK, the on-off crazy bullsh--, we can't have that anymore. People get confused and I think that's not a responsible way to show a show like this, that's so episodic. We're concentrating now on the fall semester, which is amazing. And then probably in November-December, after we speak to the network, we'll figure out the bon voyage.

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Were you surprised by the critical reaction to Season 2? It was much more mixed than it was after the first season? Do you care?
Murphy: No. I was reading stuff about the pilot episode where people were saying, "This is never going to work. It's the worst idea ever. It's like Cop Rock. Cancel it now." And then look what happened to it. Those things are sort of beyond my control. Look, [Glee executive producers] Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan and I, we're trying everyday. None of us has done a musical before. I think that's the thing about Season 1, it was sort of touched with new-kid-on-the-block, oh-someone-has-finally-done-a-musical-that's-worked kind of thing. And, you know, I think what goes up must come down.

But I love a lot of Season 2. I love the bullying storyline, I loved a lot of what Lea did, I love the Gwyneth Paltrow stuff, I love Darren Criss, I love Chord. I think Season 2 was our "bigger, better, bolder" thing and we did a lot of tribute episodes and events. It was sort of like, "Well, what are we in the mood for? What could be interesting?" It's funny, I'm really proud of Season 2, I think it was great, but Season 3 is going to be different — not because we're trying to do something different, but because this is what we're feeling now and we're moving towards closure and we've hired a writing staff.

The mantra for this year is: Story, story, story, character, character, character. I think last year we did so many big events that we didn't have a lot of big arcs, we had a couple. I just try to be really humble about it. If people love it, they love it. If they don't? I'm sorry, I don't know, I did my best! But I can say, now that we're breaking and plotting, I do feel like Season 3 sort of has that sprinkling of "This is the best season we've done" — I can just feel it.

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Some seem to be hung up on the idea that you had too many guest stars on (but nowhere near, say, what 30 Rock does.) And you recently said you weren't going to have any big guest stars this season. Is that why? Were you kidding?
Murphy:
Well, Gwyneth came on and did it and I don't really feel like you can top her, for me. The other thing is, we have so many other stories with Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch that I don't know that we could fit them in. Last year we had breathing room, which is why the Gwyneth thing worked so well, because I wanted to do that substitute teacher idea, and it was written for her.

I don't know. Like you said, I find it interesting when people get hung up on certain things, but that's OK. I think the only reason people get hung up on certain things about Glee is because they're passionate about the show. Or maybe they could give a f---, I don't know [laughs]. I don't read it. I don't pay that much attention to it. I just like to try stuff out. We're doing the absolute best we can. There's no model for what we're doing. I think the motto for this show that I'd like to adopt is: Sometimes great, never boring. That's what I'm aiming for.

One arc that people really seemed to respond to was Santana (Naya Rivera) dealing with her sexuality. Have you thought about what kinds of stories she'll get next season, and how they'll differ from Kurt's?
Murphy:
I do think it will be different. We haven't broken it, but I do think it's sort of unreasonable to think the world treats gay people like they do with Kurt, where his father embraces him and his classmates all embrace him. He was bullied, yes, but for the most part he is allowed to be free and wonderful in the world and that doesn't happen to everybody who is gay. I think it's an important thing to show all aspects of that because more than anything, what we want the kids who watch the show to see, particularly with that storyline, is that they're not alone. There are other people out there like you, who are going through it like you, and to have faith.

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How are you planning to juggle work on both Glee and your new FX series American Horror Story?
Murphy:
I don't know. I'm doing it now — but I'm not doing it by myself. Brad is doing it with me, and so is Dante DiLoreto, who runs my company. American Horror Story is a different animal, you know? I'm excited by both shows and between them I think we have a grand total of 18 writers, so that's great. I think it'll work out.